Brian Keaney

Month: December, 2009

’tis the giver, not the gift, that counts

My freshman year of college I walked off the plane for Christmas break wearing a grey sweatshirt bearing the name of my university.  A few days later, on Christmas morning, I opened up a box from my parents containing the exact same sweatshirt.  On the day after Christmas this year I remarked to my mother that if Grandma ever gave me anything besides a sweatshirt that I would probably drop dead of a heart attack.  I can’t remember the last time she gave me something else.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very appreciative of the gift, and as I listen to the wind howl outside as  I write this I am keenly aware of those who would love an extra sweatshirt right now.  However, I don’t wear sweatshirts – or any shirt with long sleeves – all that often, and certainly not if I can help it.

I still have that same grey sweatshirt I bought 10 years ago.  It’s quite stained now, and the sleeves are showing some wear, but it’s still really the only sweatshirt I wear.  It suits my purposes just fine, and truth be told I still like it quite a bit.

It thus resonated with me when I read of Joel Waldfogel’s new book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.  Waldfogel, of the Wharton School, talked about the deadweight loss of Christmas gifts.  Say the sweatshirt I got cost my grandmother $50.  If she had just given me $50 I would have gone out and spent it on something I would have enjoyed quite a bit more.  Chances are I would have gotten a full $50 worth of enjoyment out of the item I chose myself, but I won’t get it from a sweatshirt that will sit in my closet.

Still, something just didn’t seem quite right with his analysis.  The old saying goes that it’s the thought that counts, and I think there’s quite a bit to that, so I was pleased to read In Defense of Holdiday Gift-Giving this morning.

To make any sense of holiday gift-giving, we must move away from a thinking of the items as mere transfers of wealth or property. That isn’t their point. Gifts are better understood with the tools of signaling theory: the branch of economics, pioneered by the Nobel laureate A. Michael Spence, that explains the use of costly actions to provide information.  …

Mr. Waldfogel’s negative view of holiday gift-giving is essentially a Yule-tide version of the Spence signaling model. We all want to convince others that we like or love them. Presents are a signal of affection, and if we didn’t give them, we are thought to either be uncaring or ill-mannered. As a result, society engages in a lot of wasteful holiday spending.

Signaling has many virtues, and it is hard to think of anything more valuable than showing affection for others. In the schooling context, signals allow the matching of people to jobs. In the context of gift-giving, providing presents increases the welfare of others by giving them the sense that they are loved.

I appreciate the gift my grandparents got me not because I really wanted a sweatshirt, but because of all the thousands of styles of sweatshirts out there, my grandmother took the time to pick out one that she thought I would like.  It was the sentiment behind the gift that matters most to me.  As my great-mother was known to say, ’tis the giver, not the gift, that counts.  For without the giver there wouldn’t be a gift at all.

As it so happens, I actually like the sweatshirt I got this year, but that isn’t always the case.  As Economix had to say this morning,

Gifts from uncles and grandparents were valued less than gifts from parents, which was compatible with the view that knowledge of tastes declined with social distance.

Glasaer is speaking of economic value here, not sentimental value, but it matches up to my experience.   The one time my parents bought me a sweatshirt as an adult, it was one that I liked so much that I purchased it for myself.  I would have been thrilled if my grandparents bought me one with my alma mater’s name on it, but I guess that’s really a lot of social distance.


Social media as a marketing and campaign tool

Today at the 2.0 Life, David says that he is “a serial early-adopter” of social media.  I’m most certainly not, for a few reasons.  Most importantly, it’s  for the very reason David says he quits most of them:  “Most of the time, social networks don’t have any real value unless everyone you know is using them, and most don’t have any value even if everyone is.”

Like most people I know, I’m a busy person and I have neither the time nor the inclination to try every new fad that comes down the pike.  If I am going to invest in a technology, I want it to have a proven value.  This is often the advice I give to clients.  Many feel they should be everywhere at once.  I disagree, and counsel that rather than trying to do too much at once, they should focus on a few that 1) they (or I, under their name) can do well, and 2) give you the most bang for the buck.

Facebook is an obvious choice, simply because it is so ubiquitous.  It is the place, as David says, where everyone you know (and many you would like to know) is already.  It doesn’t take much to set up a fan page or group, and, once you let a few friends know about it, then it can spread like wildfire.  Each time someone joins your group a notification is sent out letting their friends know they support a candidate, or enjoy shopping at a particular store.   If the friend also join up, a notification is sent out again to all their friends, and so on.  Even if they don’t join, simply seeing the notification is a free endorsement.

Twitter grows in popularity each day, but can be slightly tougher to do well.  It requires more work than Facebook, but the payoff can be even bigger.  At b.good (disclaimer: I am the winner of a contest there), they know how to “tweet” effectively.  b.good has an interesting marketing strategy.  Disdaining things like newspaper ads, they will tape coupons for free burgers and fries to objects in the neighborhood of their restaurants.   When they do, a tweet will go out  to their followers alerting them, often with a photo showing you where you can find them.  It’s a great way to get people in the doors who might not otherwise.

For the professional set, blogging is probably your best bet.  Of the three social media mentioned here it takes the most amount of work, but there is no better way for you (or me) to showcase your talents.  This morning Jay Donahue posted to his real estate agency’s blog the do’s and don’t’s for holiday decorating while trying to sell your home.

No one will want to buy the cow if you give away all the milk, but supermarkets know that by giving out samples they can entice you to buy.   The same is true with blogging.  If you are a tax professional, you don’t want to provide step-by-step instructions on how to file your tax return.  However, you can use it to alert your clients (and potential clients) of a change to the federal tax code that could affect them.  In doing so you can establish yourself as an expert on the topic.

All three formats mentioned here, plus many others out there, provide a very cost-effective way to expand your base of clients, customers, and constituents.   And, as they are social medias,  you might even find yourself making a few friends along the way.

I’m kind of a celebrity

As some of you may know, I am the official Dedham cousin of the good people at b.good.  This prestigious appellation entitles me to one free hand-ground hamburger a day for as long as I shall walk the earth.  I take advantage of it about once a week, often getting some of their delicious, hand cut fries as well.  When they are fresh out of the oven (as they are baked, not fried) there is nothing better.

Tonight when I walked in I saw a friend standing and waiting for his meal.  As we were talking, he asked if I had ever been there before.  I laughed and said yes, my photo is on the wall.  It’s a pretty bad picture, actually, but there I am on a plaque next to the cash register.

There was a new girl behind the counter, and she heard our conversation.  “That’s  you?” she asked.  I told her it was, and her responce made my night.

“You’re kind of a celebrity around here,” she told me.

I have achieved celebrity status in a fast food restaurant at the local mall.   It can’t go anywhere but downhill from here.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the G-Bomb

I have a pretty varied set of interests, and nowhere is this more clear than by the list of 100 or so blogs and websites to which I  subscribe.  Thrown in the mix are some comic strips (who doesn’t love Calvin and Hobbes?),  a couple good political ones, a fair number focusing on economics, a few newspaper columnists I enjoy, and a folder I simply labeled “Learn,” because whether it is Constitutional law or cognitive psychology, I am constantly discovering something new from them.

A few months ago I transfered all of my feeds into Thunderbird.  I thought it would be convenient to have them in the same place as my email, and it theory it would be.  The problem is that Thunderbird did a lousy job with them.  It was difficult to add and remove feeds, and hours and days later the same feeds would get repeated .  I’d go back to check what was new, and would instead find a week-old post somehow landed in the feed again and was showing up as unread.

I went back to Google Reader, and I’m so glad I did.  I have become completely enamored with Google.  No matter what program you are running, it just works.  No error messages, no crashes, no lost data.  Add to that a web-functionality so you can find your work wherever you are, and throw in the myriad of great new programs that are constantly coming out, and it all adds up for me.

Not only are there far fewer problems with Google Reader (actually, I can’t think of any), it has a much greater functionality as well.  One of my favorite features is the popular items thread.  As you use Google programs more and more, it begins to learn what you like.  Many others have written very eloquently on the privacy concerns this entails, but I’ve come to terms with them.  I’ve accepted that this is a brave new world we are in, and I trust Google not to be evil.

Using the popular items thread, Google suggests things that people with similar interests also enjoy.  If peanut butter often  shows up in my account history, and others who like peanut butter also like jelly, it starts suggesting feeds on jelly as well.  A fair number of my now daily reads have been discovered this way.

More and more I find myself suggesting these tools to my clients.  If you are going to be a leader in your field, be it in commerce or politics or anything else, you will do well not only to keep on top of the latest developments, but to be constantly discovering and considering new perspectives as well.

Using Reader’s Send To feature, you can also easily send a link to your favorite social media program.  Say your city posts a notice on its website that a meeting is taking place to discus a new development in your neighborhood.  Since you are subscribed to the city’s RSS feed, it pops up in your Reader.  With just the click of a button you send it out to your constituents (and anyone else who follows you) on Twitter.  Soon after, the state releases a report saying that crime in your city is down 15%, and you pass it along as well.  The next week a fundraiser is being held for the local elementary school, and you use your network to promote that, too.

These are feeds you are probably going to be following anyway, and passing the information along only takes a minute of your time.  In the process, you become a central hub for information of concern to your constituents (or business partners, or customers, etc).  It also helps brand you as someone in the know, an expert in your field.  That won’t hurt the next time someone goes to cast a ballot, or makes a decision about where to buy a widget.

O, Christmas Tree

I’m known for many things, not all of which I’m proud of and many of which I’m not so foolish as to put here online.  However, this morning, I couldn’t have been happier that my reputation preceded me.

Today I finally bought my Christmas tree, a week later than I normally would have.  I wanted to buy from the Dedham Community House again this year for two reasons.  For one thing, they are only two blocks from my place, so getting it back is cake.  More importantly, I wanted to support an organization that does some great work in my hometown.

I could go to a big megastore, but why send my money to stockholders in other states and countries when I can keep it here doing good work for my friends and neighbors?  Although it is only slightly further from me than the Community House, I am boycotting Lowe’s once againuntil after Christmas.  Not that I spend a lot of moeny there anyway, but it is ridiculous when they start putting Christmas items out a month before Halloween.  As Suldog reminds us each year, Thanksgiving comes first!

In any case, the Community House only sells on Saturday and Sunday, and I thought they were worth waiting a few extra days for since I couldn’t get there last weekend.  When I walked up this morning I immediately heard someone call out my name.  I turned around, and the director was asking if I was back to buy the biggest tree on the lot again.  I assured her I was, and asked where I could find it.

There were two early contenders, but in the end it was easy to choose the right one.  It’s nine feet tall, and has a terrific shape.  There was another tree that looked slightly bigger, but the shape wasn’t nearly as good.   I don’t get too particular about too many things, but when it comes to Christmas trees I am a complete snob.

Not to ruin this with a complaint, but I left off on a rather disappointing note.  As we parted ways a volunteer wished me a happy holiday.  I know people use this expression to avoid offending anyone, but for Pete’s sake I just bought a Christmas tree.  It should be pretty clear by now that I celebrate Christmas!  I think it would have been safe to wish me a Merry Christmas.

As I was bringing in my tree I put the radio on to listen to Christmas music.  The first song that came on was Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song, Part II.”  Granted it’s meant to be funny, but I still took no offense at it.  Maybe that’s easy for me to say, being in the majority and all.  After all, Sandler wrote his series of songs for those kids who feel like they are the only ones in town without a Christmas tree.

However, I spent a year in Honolulu where I was an ethnic minority.  There really wasn’t a majority, but we hoales were not even a plurality.  One of the great things about that city was all the street festivals they threw.  It seemed like once a month they were blocking off streets to throw a party.  I marched in the Martin Luther King Day parade and had a blast at a Chinese New Year party.  I wasn’t offended by anyone else’s celebration, and no one was offended when I wished them a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

As I said, I wasn’t going to mention his comment as I’m sure he didn’t mean to upset anyone by it.  However, I just read about a city councilman in North Carolina whose election is being challenged because he is an atheist.

When Mr. Bothwell was sworn into office on Monday, he used an alternate oath that does not require officials to swear on a Bible or refer to “Almighty God.”

That has riled conservative advocates, who cite a little-noticed quirk in North Carolina’s Constitution that disqualifies officeholders “who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” The provision was included when the document was drafted in 1868 and was not revised when North Carolina amended its Constitution in 1971.

The vast majority of people celebrate this holy day, and only a very small percentage don’t.  Even if you don’t, the sentiment behind the greeting should be evidence enough of the goodwill towards men they intend to impart.  I’ve always wondered what those who don’t celebrate any holiday at this part of the year feel when they are greeted with “happy holidays.”  Do they get offended?  Should we instead be wishing each other “non-denominational, politically-correct, seasonal tidings of winter cheer?”  Somehow that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

And, not for nothing, but have the good people of Ashville, N.C. not heard of the “no religious test” clause of the Constitution?  I don’t care if he Decks the Halls or spins the dradle with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, or doesn’t observe any religious occurrences at all (curiously, the atheist councilman not only celebrates Christmas but also attends a church).  I would much rather have an atheist who is right on the issues in office than a fellow Christian who is wrong on them.

Anyway, my tree is up, my apartment smells fantastic, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.  Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!

I’ve got a face made for radio

Tonight was the second annual Holiday Harvest Telethon at Dedham Public Television to benefit the Food Pantry.   It was a great time, and there were quite a few good acts performing.  My favorite were the Irish step dancers, with a very close second being Dedham High’s own Diverse Motions.  They performed a hip hop dance routine, and I was quite proud to have them as the single act I booked for the show.  Those five guys are quite talented.

I also had a bigger role to play than I thought I would.  When I get there around 6 it was just to help out behind the scenes and do whatever was necessary.  At 6:50, only 10 minutes until we were live on the air, one of the on air personalities called in to say he wouldn’t be able to make it.  Justin Cowley, DPTV’s producer extraordinaire, was all in a fluster and asked if I could fill in.  I thought there were more talented (and certainly better looking) candidates available, but they all took a pass.  The show must go on, as they say, and so I agreed to jump in.

I interviewed the 4 selectmen present, asking such hard hitting questions as “What do you want Santa to bring you this year,” and “Your wife really let you out of the house wearing that tie?”  I was even requested by the firefighter and police officer to interview them on air and accept their donation checks.  I didn’t look at the amounts on the checks, but officer Ron Pucci assured me that the police gave more.

By far my favorite was talking with Jack and Eric of Jack and Eric’s Pirate Lemonade.  These kids set up a lemonade stand at the farmers market in Dedham Square this summer and raised nearly $300 for the Food Pantry.  I was a little worried as sometimes kids can clam up in situations like this, but both were plenty talkative for me.  Must be the ease at which I put those I am interviewing.

The final tally at the end of the night was over $17,000, and I hope a few  more checks roll in as people watch the repeats in the days and weeks to come.   Last year more than $20,000 was raised when all was said and done, and that accounts for more than 50% of the Food Pantry’s budget for the year.  They are seeing more need than ever before, and there’s no better time to donate.

After the telethon a group of us went out for a couple of drinks, and it turns out that a couple of us speak a little American Sign Language.  While we were talking this video came up, and I thought it was good enough that deserved sharing here.

I really wish I could speak more ASL.  Actually, I’d be happy just to remember most of the little I once knew.  For now I am going to have to be satisfied remembering dirty words and trying to pick up more from Miley Cyris songs.


In high school I had a teacher who made us write for the first few minutes of every class.  It didn’t matter what it was about, we simply had to write.  This will be a space where I can do just that.  Don’t expect any rhyme or reason – these are just the random thoughts that enter my head and the fun or interesting things I find around the internets.